Subscriber Only

Owen Doyle: Dishonest scrummaging at Murrayfield not the referee’s fault

Both England and Scotland have been serial offenders in this aspect for too long

Agatha Christie’s whodunnit thriller The Mousetrap has had a remarkable run of over 60 consecutive years in London’s West End.

By the time the curtain came down in Murrayfield’s theatre of rugby, there had been as many twists and turns in Scotland v England as in that famous play. In the end it was Scotland who’d dunnit, and, in the immortal words of Flower of Scotland, had indeed sent the ‘auld enemy home to tae think again.’

And Eddie Jones has much thinking to do.

Having come out well on top of the possession and territory charts, the coach will need to look closely in the mirror in terms of both tactics and selection. Also, to take off Marcus Smith, with 20 minutes left, depriving England of their magical playmaker, who scored all of England's tally, is hardly the stuff of great ambition.

The game was a challenge to referee Ben O’Keeffe, who will look back at his afternoon with plenty to think about, including his non-stop commentary. The scrum was the proverbial dog’s dinner and the referee never really came to terms with it, needing to get stuck in to the problem with a harder approach.

However, when teams serve up what amounts to persistently dishonest scrummaging, it is simply unfair to throw the blame into the court of the arbiter. The fault lies definitively with the coaches and the players, not the referees, and that’s important to say. Too often teams are irresponsibly illegal, and both England and Scotland have been serial offenders for too long.

When the final, vital scrum was awarded the clock was just entering the red, but it took a series of resets by the referee, and nearly five minutes, for that scrum to produce the ball.

With the score at a knife-edge 20-17, perhaps O’Keeffe did not want to make a call which would change the result; or, perhaps, by then, he’d just thrown his hat at the whole shambles.

Nevertheless, at least one of those collapses seemed indisputably the fault of the home team with their South African props, WP Nel and Pierre Schoeman, to the fore. Jones has a legitimate question to ask.

Cowan-Dickie landed like a sack of potatoes, ingloriously and painfully on his backside, looking bemused at events

Otherwise, there were decisions which definitely were not of the clearly obvious variety. Scotland's Darcy Graham and Grant Gilchrist were pinged for obstruction, when the contact was just clumsily accidental, a scrum call would have been fair. The subsequent lineout gave territory to England who, soon afterwards, collected three points from another close-call penalty.

Graham had a very productive afternoon and, while looking understandably bemused at another penalty against him, his scintillating sleight-of-foot run down the right-hand side created a crucially important try for Ben White.

From the restart to that score, Stuart Hogg fluffed his clearing lines, following which team-mate Jamie Richie instantly appeared to be offside, right in front of the Scottish posts, another decision Jones will want advice on.

On the credit side, the key penalty try awarded to Scotland was correct. Luke Cowan-Dickie had other options other than jumping to smack the ball out of play when Finn Russell’s crosskick had put it right on the money for the ubiquitous Graham.

Cowan-Dickie landed like a sack of potatoes, ingloriously and painfully on his backside, looking bemused at events. But, while there is some disagreement, the officials were spot on; if an offence prevents a probable try, then that is quite enough for a penalty try, it does not have to be a racing certainty, and it was clearly probable that Graham would have caught the ball and scored.

It was yet another moment of high drama as the match went right down to the wire, to that very last scrum.

Curiously passionless

Earlier in the day, Ireland had pretty much a walk in the park against Wales. The visitors were injury-hit, nonetheless they were curiously passionless, offering little which suggested they thought they could win it.

Sexton was far from being in possession so it could not qualify as an attempted tackle, with Adams crashing high, hard, into the Irish captain

Compared to events in Murrayfield, Jaco Peyper had an armchair ride in what was a much easier challenge. He did well to let the players get on with it, and resisted getting involved in 50/50 calls. He was quiet, nearly bordering on unobtrusive, which was welcome, explaining his decisions with no fuss.

The two captains were also quiet, Johnny Sexton will have been more than very happy that Peyper found nothing to penalise Ireland for until well into the second half. And before Wales even had a chance to take that, it was reversed for Josh Adams's extremely dangerous bodycheck on Sexton. After review the referee selected a yellow, which might have been more, but it is hard to argue with this application of the protocol.

It was bad, and totally unwarranted. Sexton was far from being in possession so it could not qualify as an attempted tackle, with Adams crashing high, hard, into the Irish captain, causing his head to clearly whiplash. The protocols must be fit for purpose, they could very usefully be revised to deal with off-the-ball foul play, where the sole purpose is to target and to hurt an opponent. It has to stop.

While Ireland played very well against inferior opposition, they’ll have to up it next time; it was far from perfect, and the second quarter was in the disappointing category.

Tadhg Beirne had another superb day, but he'll know that he escaped penalty for a crass, leaping side entry which, on another day, could prove costly. Wales had not threatened the Irish line all day, until, late on, it was Beirne's perfect pop-up pass to Taine Basham which enabled the Welsh flanker to stride in unopposed, his team's only points.

In Paris, there were no referee issues with Mike Adamson getting most things right in a match which lacked any real intensity. France, despite some lovely tries, huffed and puffed, against an improved Italy. This level of performance is unlikely to be good enough to beat Ireland, so expect something quite different from Les Bleus next Saturday.

Like me, I’m sure you can’t wait – it could well be epic.